.Loco Hero

After hitching to stardom with Faith No More, singer Mike Patton rode his twisted genius in all directions, not letting rock, fame, or even truth stand in his way.

On a recent Saturday, Mike Patton, the former frontman for platinum-selling rock band Faith No More, is indulging his inner collector-nerd. Record stores are Patton’s home away from home, and he mows through this one’s CD racks with zealous concentration, occasionally bursting out with an excited, “Oh, have you seen this?” or “Man, what is this?” At the moment, the singer is flipping through the World Music section, expounding on Indian bowl players, Greek funeral singers, and Vietnamese street buskers. He knows the section like a mother knows the contours of her baby. “This,” says the 34-year-old singer, pulling out a record bedecked with smiling, toothless gypsy fiddlers, “is amazing.” It’s a word he uses a lot — “amazing” — perhaps to avoid saying “awesome.” Mike Patton does not want to be like everyone else.

He doesn’t want to be a rock star either. Not to crush the dreams of a zillion teenagers, but that shit is tedious. Sure, that was indeed him tossing his long hair and prancing in front of the cameras amid splashing water and flapping fish for Faith No More’s “Epic” video, back when the band’s 1989 album The Real Thing was flying off the shelves. And yes, he enjoyed most of the decade he spent as the band’s lead nutcase. But being a rock star? Well, that sucked. “VH1 called up a few years ago for a ‘Where Are They Now?’ episode,” says Patton’s manager, Greg Werckman. “Mike came up with an interesting concept: ‘I’ll let you interview me only if we can film it in the Tenderloin, with me living in a cardboard box — make it a real down-and-out story.'”

While this tidbit reflects Patton’s conviction that the only thing in life that should be taken seriously is music, there’s actually some truth to it, at least as far as the record industry is concerned. Patton is a genuine rarity: someone who started at the top and willingly worked his way down. Most VH1 viewers would probably consider what he’s doing today the musical equivalent of living in his own filth.

To the mainstream, Patton’s forays into noise and New Music are virtually unlistenable. To his colleagues and fervently loyal fans, however, Patton is a brilliant and versatile musician with a gifted voice who constantly throws himself into new, wildly different projects, doffing and donning new masks, reinventing himself with each undertaking.

In his brief but prodigious career, Patton has been involved in more than thirty different projects. After Faith No More called it quits in 1998, he continued with his very first band, the warped Mr. Bungle, and began juggling new enterprises and collaborations like a madman. He composed the music for what would become his most critically acclaimed group, Fantomas, a genre-busting foursome that brought together members of Bungle, Slayer, and the Melvins. In ’99, Patton teamed up with Werckman to form Ipecac Recordings, an Alameda label that has nurtured groups such as X-Girl, the Melvins, and Kid606.

Last year, he joined forces with Dan the Automator and Jennifer Charles from the Elysian Fields for the project Lovage, whose release, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, was roundly praised by electronic and hip-hop heads. And this year Patton has collaborated with the Dillinger Escape Plan and the X-ecutioners, and has worked on another project with Dan the Automator called Peeping Tom. He’s also currently on the road with his band Tomahawk — the closest thing to true “rock music” the singer has done in awhile, combining the talents of classically trained ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison with Patton’s affected vocals. All this from a guy who can’t actually read or write music, and has never mastered any instrument except his voice.

Patton is now all but idolized by trendy bands such as System of a Down and Papa Roach for his work in Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, and holds the esteem of experimental and New Music practitioners for his composition skills and finely trained ear. “I don’t know of too many singers coming from the area that he’s come out of, lead rock singers, who do what he has done,” says William Winant, a Patton collaborator and artist in residence at Mills College. “I can’t see David Lee Roth or Fred Durst doing anything other than what they do, unlike with Mike, who’s got a whole wide range of things that he does. He didn’t let the whole ‘rock’ thing get in his way.”

The singer tries not to let fame get in his way either, but it’s hard to avoid. He arrives at the record store dressed in a tasteful vintage Hawaiian shirt and dark slacks, and has the upbeat yet guarded demeanor of someone who has had one too many run-ins with freaky fans. His look has remained pretty constant through the years, though he seems to always be wrestling with some sort of suppressed Guido. Patton stands about five-foot-eight, with a mantle of trimmed, pomaded hair and delicate grooming that places him just a hop, skip, and a jump away from those dudes with pencil thin mustaches, do-rags, and ribbed white undershirts. (He actually did go through a phase of dressing like that a few years ago — one fan described it as his “gay pimp look.”) Other incarnations have included long hair with the sides shaved a bit: that’s right, a mullet.

He’s undeniably striking, with piercing Italian good looks and that inexplicable aura shared by first crushes, high-profile criminals, and celebrities — the kind of vibe that makes strangers wonder: Who is that guy?

As he wanders contentedly from one section to the next, a small cotillion of hip, bespectacled indie types — just the sorts who are Bungle and Fantomas fans — slowly begin to circle. The singer appears not to notice. Patton has a mixed relationship with fame, and with his sometimes-fanatical fan base. On one hand, he needs them to sustain his record company and finance his addiction to jumping from one project to the next. On the other, he’s a private person who’d much rather shuffle through Burt Bacharach and Joe Meek CDs than talk about himself or his work. Though polite, he seems averse to interviews. And he’s definitely, well, a little weird.

Among the CDs Patton has picked out, one can’t help but notice, is a Melissa Etheridge album. What gives? “I like the cover art on this,” he says unapologetically, holding up its silver cover with the singer peeking through a cut-out keyhole. He ends up actually buying it. See? Weird.

“He’s a different personality,” says Denison, the ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist and current Tomahawk bandmate. “Vocalists are always different from instrumentalists. Whether it’s David Yow or Mike Patton, they’re just different. He’s interesting. He’s got some eccentricities. He collects artifacts, shrunken heads, bondage gear. He also likes to have great big meals in nice restaurants before he plays. He can have a gigantic meal: soup, steak, lobster. … And then he just walks out and plays. I could never do that.”

The third thing Patton doesn’t let get in his way is truth. Perhaps it goes hand in hand with the fame thing, but the singer seems to view his life in print as part of a grand prank, and is fond of making up stories or having friends do it for him. Distinguishing between the real Patton and the fabrication is often challenging. “The more misconceptions, the better,” he quips.

Wandering through the African music section, a Positive Black Soul CD reminds Patton of a harrowing tour experience. “We actually opened up for these guys in France,” he says. “Now there’s a story.” The Fantomas, he explains, were playing the Eurock√©ennes Festival in France last year, and Patton and his cohorts were side-stage, watching the rap group finish its set. “The whole time a woman had been climbing up the lighting rig,” he says. “When she got to the top, she tied some cords around the bars, made a noose, and hung herself.”

The woman dangled, suspended and jerking, he recalls, until the crew climbed up and cut her down just in time to save her. Patton says he was horrified, especially since the festival promoter was so nonchalant about it. The promoter told him that the woman, an employee, was unstable and did stuff like that all the time. “I said, ‘Aren’t you going to take her to the hospital, to see if she’s okay?’ He was like, ‘Sure, sure, don’t worry. It’s nothing.’ He totally shrugged it off. I was stunned. Then the guy says, ‘Hey, by the way, I like your stuff with Mr. Bungle way better than Fantomas.'”

Get acquainted with Patton, and it’s not hard to understand why he chose the name Fantomas. The masked protagonist — from a series of pre-World War I French novellas — is a cleverly sick prankster who causes death and dismemberment just for the hell of it, replacing perfume with sulfuric acid, poisoning people with tainted bouquets, and spreading the plague with diseased rats. He’s the perfect antihero for anyone who cheered the Penguin and the Riddler instead of boring old Batman and Robin.

Patton isn’t exactly an evil mastermind — though fellow bandmate and Melvins’ guitarist Buzz Osbourne likens him to “a constantly menstruating Hitler”– but the singer has a straight-up devilish grin and is a fan of the arcane and the unexpected, two things embodied in the old French thrillers. And the man behind Faith No More’s line “It’s always fun until someone gets hurt/And then it’s just hilarious” would have to have a warped sense of humor.

Ask Buzz to describe his weirdest experience with the singer, and he’s apt to come up with something about Mexico and copious cerveza. “One time I was in Tijuana with Mike,” he says over the phone from backstage at a show in Cleveland. “It’s the most incredible story, but it doesn’t involve donkeys. We were down there, you know, doing the Tijuana thing, and we kicked the shit out of a transvestite down there. Mike was tripping on acid, too. Fortunately I wasn’t, and I walked him back across the border.”

“We have a deal, Buzz and I,” explains Patton. “We each talk as much shit as we can about the other to the press.”

It’s not merely fake stories that have entertained and perplexed gullible journalists, but Patton’s reputation for avoiding the press at all costs. A piece about Lovage on MTV’s Web site describes him as the “reclusive Patton, speaking from his San Francisco home in a rare interview …” Patton says that he does any and all interviews he can, and he’s by no means Salingeresque. One need only go online to find tons of Q&As with him, most from fans who simply walked up to him before or after a show with a tape recorder in hand. “I don’t avoid the media at all,” he says, laughing. “They just don’t want to write about me.”The seeds of Mr. Bungle were sown in Arcata, home to Humboldt State University and a town that has played host to California’s biggest industries: gold, timber, and marijuana. If Patton has one word for Arcata, it would be this: “Lame.” His father was a football coach, and pushed his son toward athletics. It didn’t stick. “My dad was like a jock,” he says. “I tried that for a few years and it didn’t work out. I was just doing my own thing. I was a geek, kind of on my own.”

Born in 1968, Patton grew up in the ’70s, when Saturday morning cartoons and After School Specials were being etched into the minds of Gen-Xers, the guys from Mr. Bungle especially. The band formed when he was sixteen, with Patton on vocals, and schoolmates Trevor Dunn, Trey Spruance, and Jed Watts playing the instruments.

It was an anticlique of sorts: guys with above-average intelligence and keen senses of humor who weren’t nerdy enough for D&D, but were way too cynical for homecoming games and school dances. Instead, they stayed home and listened to Fishbone and death metal. Those early Bungle recordings sound like Venom or Celtic Frost if Monty Python had gotten to them. “The first record we did was kind of cornball, goofy, tongue-in-cheek, inside-joke crap,” says Patton. “And that’s exactly what it is: Crap. After a few years of doing that you start realizing, wait a minute, this is my life. I guess I’m a joke, then.”

Somewhere between goofing around with his band and not being the athlete his dad wanted him to be, Patton had realized he wanted to do music, and not just to be funny or ironic.

As his sensibilities expanded, so too did Bungle’s. The band’s lineup had evolved to include Danny Heifetz on drums and Clinton “Bar” McKinnon on horns and keys, and instead of simply being flat-out-obnoxious low-brow, the music was an amalgam of experimental composition and flat-out-obnoxious low-brow. The band’s detractors varied from those who called them a watered-down version of Japanese experimental-punk pioneers the Boredoms to those who just plain didn’t get it — something Patton has heard a lot of people say about his music. On many an occasion the band played to resounding rooms full of “Boooooooooo!” which the musicians in turn soaked up like fuel for the noise machine — infuriating the audience even more. “I love being booed,” Patton laughs.

The singer’s stage antics with Bungle are legendary, most notably the night he peed in his shoe and drank it. “I was there,” says Werckman, who is one of Patton’s best friends. “It was New Year’s Eve with Primus. After he did that, he smacked his head on a microphone. It was bleeding really bad, and he had to go to the hospital with pee on his breath.”

Truth or fiction?

As wacky as Bungle seemed to some, the band was deadly serious about its approach, which helps to explain its devoted fan base. There are at least ten Web sites devoted solely to Mr. Bungle, and the current crop of so-called “nu metal” bands often give the group props. Bungle’s music was a crazy quilt of metal, pop, AM radio schmaltz, noise, and the absurd — precisely the ticket for bored teenagers attempting to eschew the obvious. It was with Mr. Bungle that Patton began honing his writing skills, initially creating lyrics that were chains of made-up words and noises, then filling in with real words as the songs became more fleshed out. “Mike definitely writes from more of an aural standpoint,” writes bandmate Spruance on a Canadian fan site called Bungle to Fantomas. “He comes up with syllables and nonsensical verses. It’s amazing watching some of his lyrics take shape, because they don’t sound a whole lot different than those noises he was making.” Patton also had a special gift: He could create whole melodies and songs in his head, and remember every part with the efficiency of a computer.

It was while recording the first Bungle record in the late ’80s that he first worked with the legendary experimental musician John Zorn, and much of his subsequent creative direction has borne the imprint of the avant-garde New Yorker. “Zorn had a profound influence on Mike,” says Winant. Indeed, most of Patton’s collaborations outside of his own bands have involved Zorn in some way.

Patton was 21 in 1989 when the members of Faith No More asked him to join, rejecting a host of other hopefuls including Courtney Love. The band had already reached underground prominence for its song, “We Care A Lot,” a typically ironic ’80s political-punk anthem. Patton’s main reason for joining the band was to get out of Arcata, but he also liked the challenge of being in a band that wasn’t Bungle. “It was music that I’d never made before,” he says. “I used to kind of laugh, you know … what am I gonna do, sing that song?”

So no one was more surprised than Patton when Faith No More became a platinum seller with its hit “Epic.” It’s something he looks back on with bemusement. Ask him about his most embarrassing moment on stage — and this is a guy with a lot of idiotic moments on stage — and Patton will say it was opening for Guns N’ Roses. He was an anti-rock-star rock star who, instead of blowing his head off like Kurt Cobain, just mocked the absurdity of it all. “Fame is like going to Las Vegas,” he says. “That’s it. And if you can’t laugh first and foremost at yourself, then you are fucked. And when you are going through that, it’s hilarious.”

If that sounds disingenuous — come on, who wouldn’t want to be a rock star? — consider that Patton refused to quit Mr. Bungle when he was in Faith No More, despite pressure from his new bandmates to do so. His high-school band continued to play together back home, and for some strange reason even got signed to Warner Brothers, releasing three albums, none of them successful by major-label standards.

Rumor has it that Patton joined Faith No More to get Bungle signed, but he denies it. “We were signed to Warner for all the wrong reasons,” the singer told the Web site Night Times in January. “To be frank, it was because they were trying to keep me happy. I threatened to quit Faith No More if they wouldn’t let me play in Mr. Bungle.” But Patton’s first band did begin wearing masks on stage so “that guy in Faith No More” wouldn’t be the center of attention for all the MTV-watchin’ goombahs that were starting to show up at the shows.

It is a testament to Patton’s musical integrity that rather than Faith No More influencing Bungle, it was the other way around. Bungle-tude began to seep into the bigger band: Each record after The Real Thing became more and more infused with Patton’s style, growing darker, weirder, and more dissonant. Behind the scenes, the young man was still up to his old pee-pee and poo-poo stuff — this time leaving his own fecal matter all around different hotel rooms, either in the heating vents or in the bathroom hair dryers. He has told interviewers in the past that it was an attempt to stay sane in the insane world of mainstream rock, but those close to him know it was just Mike being an ass simply to entertain himself.

It was at the height of Faith No More’s fame that Patton worked his first solo record, Adult Themes For Voice, a vocals-only album recorded in hotel rooms on a four-track. The results were millions of miles away from what Faith No More was doing, and were more attuned to sensibilities he picked up from Zorn. His song titles, such as “Hurry Up and Kill Me, I’m Cold” and “A Leper with the Face of a Baby Girl” seem deliberately obtuse, the words of a man feeling himself out in the genre of experimental music.

The sounds on the record were composed through creative use of microphone and mixer, with Patton taking his voice on a journey of shouts, whirrs, chirps, clucks, and high-pitched wails. The otherworldliness of the record was a bit much for even die-hard Bungle fans, and Faith No More followers were left completely flummoxed, thinking that the record had to be another one of Patton’s odd pranks. “I honestly think that Mike is just playing with you,” one listener wrote about the record on Amazon.com. “He’s probably on this site all the time, laughing at you people who actually like to listen to these albums!”

To his detractors Patton has one thing to say: nothing. He shows no interest in winning their approval, nor does he even care about explaining his music to those who like it. “I don’t necessarily feel that I have a lot to say or explain about my music,” he says. “I’m not going to give you some doctoral thesis on how my music works; I don’t even know how it works.”

This isn’t to say that he’s lackadaisical. One thing most of Patton’s collaborators say about him is that he’s intense, focused, and a true musician who is absorbed by his craft instead of his audience. “Mike is super-intense wherever he is,” says Buzz. “He’s a freak, he’s a weirdo. He talks to himself. He listens to music in the tour van. … He can hear the music, but he moves his lips to different lyrics than the ones you can hear through his headphones … explain that to me! He also sleeps with his eyes wide open. I carried on a half-hour conversation with him and he was dead asleep.”

In past year alone, Patton has put out records with Fantomas (the well-received Director’s Cut, his take on movie soundtracks), Tomahawk, and Lovage, and is working on forthcoming stuff with three other ensembles. He thrives on new experiences and contexts, and is by all accounts a workaholic, downing cup after cup of coffee as he handles label affairs, makes phone calls and travel plans, and creates music.

This year, Patton says, he made a New Year’s resolution to spend less time away from home. So far it hasn’t worked. “People say I am working too hard all the time, and sometimes I agree with them,” he admits. “But there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t feel comfortable unless I’ve got a few unfinished things; I don’t like empty space in front of me.”

But isn’t there then a danger of his music becoming little more than busywork? “Yes,” he says. “I just try and keep it all good stuff, make sure it’s coming from an honest place, not a place that I’m just doing it because I gotta do it. What I’m learning is it’s not just going in, learning your parts, and then wiping your hands clean of it and hoping it turns out good: There’s no such thing as being marginally involved.”

This is evident, he says, in his collaboration with the Dillinger Escape Plan, for which he initially intended just to sing on some tracks; now he’s handling the cover art for the CD and talking about going on tour. “I’m not so good at saying no,” Patton admits.

The singer’s extreme work ethic has posed problems for his relationships, with more than one person close to him suggesting that he should slow down. But Patton sees it as something he cannot change about himself. “I’m a lifer,” he says. “I think in order to do that you have to make a lot of sacrifices. That means personal things, that means relationships, a lot of things. But with me, that’s my baggage, that’s my thing. I’m gonna work too much, I’m gonna be completely self-absorbed — I’m gonna be a fucking asshole, and that’s just the way it is. Anybody that’s decent at anything is pretty selfish. They gotta be. I’m not in this to be a good guy.”

His conceit is perhaps forgivable, given that the notoriously snobby New Music crowd views him as some sort of amazing visionary. Winant, an esteemed drummer who has performed in more than two hundred Bungle shows and on its last two albums, met Patton through John Zorn, when both musicians were guests on Zorn’s Naked City project. Winant, who has worked with everyone from John Cage to Danny Elfman to Sonic Youth, puts Patton right up there with them. “He’s very talented,” he says. “He’s considered this sort of virtuoso instrumentalist in a lot of ways. He’s a great singer, he’s also a great improviser.”

What really impresses the drummer is the fact that Patton can’t write music, yet he holds it all in his head and has perfect pitch. “He can hear things and then immediately sing it back. And the amazing thing is that he’s completely self-taught,” says Winant. “He’s a much better musician than people I see who teach at UC Berkeley. He’s got more music in his pinky than a lot of these professors at universities.”

Denison concurs. “He’s very knowledgeable of all different types of music, and he has a great range of different styles,” says the Tomahawk guitarist. “He’s also got good ears. I will change one little thing here and there, one note in a chord, and he’ll pick it out. I’m always impressed by that.”

Patton’s Fantomas records offer some insight into his creative process. The first, a divine jumble of heavy guitar, skittish, possessed and screaming vocals, and pregnant pauses, was conceived entirely in his head. He dreamed up the parts for each instrument, and set out to find people to carry out the project, settling on Buzz on guitar, Dave Lombardo from Slayer on drums, and his old Bungle bandmate Trevor Dunn on bass. To first-time listeners, it sounds like a bit of an improvisation, but the entire thing was meticulously planned. The second Fantomas release garnered the most attention. It was Mike’s interpretation of movie soundtracks, including The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby, Twin Peaks, and The Omen. The Director’s Cut was among the best releases of 2001, a creative yet harsh synthesis of fear and loathing worthy of an orchestra but played on rock instruments. Metallica may have attempted a “classical” approach to metal with the San Francisco Symphony, but only Patton could pull it off.

The inspiration for Ipecac — named for a root that induces vomiting — came when Patton made the first Fantomas record and couldn’t find a label to put it out. Undaunted, he decided to do it himself.

The singer wanted to create a place for music that didn’t have a home elsewhere, a sort of Island of Misfit Toys for bands. He rounded up Werckman to handle the business end, running the label out of a cottage behind Werckman’s Alameda home. They had low overhead and low expectations, and now the success of the joint venture more than sustains the two of them.

If there is one act that epitomizes what his label is trying to do, it’s the Kids of Widney High. “They are Ipecac,” says Werckman. Widney High is a school for physically and developmentally disabled teenagers, and some of the students write and perform their own songs. The music is everything from upbeat party songs to stop-staring-at-me heartbreakers. During the ’80s, copies of their self-recorded albums were making the rounds among underground and “outsider” record collectors whose ranks, of course, included Patton. He became totally enamored, talking up the records in interviews and giving them high praise. Those articles came to the attention of Michael Monagan, the kids’ music teacher, who contacted Patton about having the Kids open up for a Mr. Bungle show. “I was in tears!” says Patton. “I couldn’t believe it, they contacted me. It was amazing.”

The question is, why would a teacher of disabled children put his trust in the altruism of a prankster from an obnoxious little band like Mr. Bungle? “I had read some stuff about what he had done … pissing on stage and stuff like that,” says Monagan in a telephone interview. “But the thing is, he was so genuine. I mean I know there are people who think this is a joke or something, but I knew right from the get-go that Mike was very genuine about his interest and was wishing that when we put the record out there would be a lot more acceptance for it.”

“There’s actually a great story,” adds Monagan about that first concert. “There was some exec from Warner Brothers there, and she apparently said to Mike before the show, ‘What do you think you’re doing, putting these kids up there like that?’ And he said, ‘You know what? Just watch the show and we’ll talk afterwards.’ So I guess he and Greg kept an eye on her, and after one song, she had a big smile on her face, she really got it. It’s tough not to get it.”

Werckman and Patton convinced the teacher to release his kids’ record on Ipecac, and Let’s Get Busy became one of the label’s first releases. “That’s why we put our heads together and started a label,” says Patton. “To put out stuff that’s great, honest, and that doesn’t have a place in the world.”

The label has worked for Patton in two ways. He has slowly created a cocoon for himself and other artists with the same sensibilities and disregard for the trappings of the music biz. He’s also made decent money at it, with the Fantomas records and the Tomahawk release each selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide. Those are phenomenal numbers for an independent label. “At first, having a label scared the shit out of me,” Patton says. “I thought it would be way more consuming than it actually is. But now the stuff that I thought would consume me actually feeds me. I get off on it. It’s fabulous, it’s great. Not only that, but we created our own context. I’ve got a home now. It’s really comforting.”

Patton plays it like owning your own label is a piece of cake. But most small-label owners don’t have the leverage of his name, a base of thousands of loyal fans who will buy anything he breathes on, and the chance to release three Melvins records in one year. To be fair, he’s also made some smart choices for his label, like Kid606, Oakland’s electronic golden boy, who Patton jokes may inadvertently make Ipecac chic.

“Oh, man, this is amazing!” We’re in the spoken-word section, and Patton has pulled out a CD of recordings of a woman being exorcised, titled I Am Lucifer. At this point he’s sufficiently weighed down with new records and appears vulnerable. It’s time for the question he hates to answer. “So, tell me about the woman who handcuffed herself to you in Australia.”

“Ugh,” he grunts, visibly annoyed. “That sucked.”

While relaxing backstage at a show in Sydney, a woman rushed up to him and attached herself to his arm. It took two hours for people to unchain the two of them, and afterwards the disturbed woman refused to leave. He pushed her away, and for the next week the streets were festooned with flyers that said, “Patton is a Woman-Basher.” He doesn’t want to talk about it, but hints around that he tried to remain as calm as he could while he was handcuffed, so as not to make the situation worse, but as soon as he was free, he wanted her to get the hell away from him.

Fan attention, especially of this magnitude, understandably freaks him out. He never looks at the message-board postings on the Ipecac site. He calls it “bad voodoo.” “It’s not my place to know why people would be interested in me. I don’t want to know. I’m just glad they are. I feel great, I feel lucky.”

His fan base is bigger in the UK and Australia than it is here, adhering to the unwritten rule that midsized American acts are generally bigger abroad than they are at home. In fact, Patton is so esteemed Down Under that he was actually asked to be the singer for INXS after Michael Hutchence died. Few things make Patton laugh harder than that one, though it sounds suspiciously like one of his stories. “Absolutely it’s true!” he laughs. “I couldn’t make something like that up!”

The band, however, didn’t appreciate Patton’s amusement over the invitation, nor that he was laughing about it in the press. “They got all uppity,” he says. “From that point on, I just tried to make fun of them at every available opportunity, I tried to talk as much shit as I could.”

He even went so far as to badmouth the group on Australian radio, making a tasteless joke in the process. “The DJ kept pressing it and pressing it,” Patton recalls, mimicking an Australian accent: “‘What do you mean you said no? You didn’t even consider it?’ And I said, ‘Would you?’ And he said, ‘Of course, they are one of the most prestigious Australian acts,’ blah blah blah. He’d ask me a few other questions, and then he’d go back to it. ‘So really, about that INXS thing …’ I said, ‘OK, look. I did consider it. I told them that the only way I would do it was if I came on stage and could rig up a noose and hang myself while I was singing.'”

That little joke went out on national radio. During National Suicide Awareness Week. While Michael Hutchence’s parents were listening. Oops.

Patton seems to regret hurting anyone, but isn’t sorry he said it. “I was rough, but hey, you can come out snarling when your back is against the wall,” he says. “And plus they suck!” he adds, laughing. “Fuck them! They are fucking godawful! And not only that, I turned them down and they didn’t want me to talk about that fact? Kiss my ass! Dingo-loving sons of bitches!”

Besides the whole INXS fiasco, the only other thing that seems to set him off are those who say that Faith No More had an influence on so-called rap-metal or “nu-metal” bands like Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit. “They like Faith No More for some reason. I don’t hear the connection,” he states flatly. “Or maybe I just don’t want to.”

Coby Dick, the singer for Papa Roach, is one of many of the new generation of lead singers that has publicly elevated Patton to goofy-genius status, whether Patton likes it or not. Dick has said that his band regularly plays Adult Themes for Voice before it goes on stage. “His music is your way to get to know him,” he told Revolver magazine in January. “Since his music is so strange, you know there’s a strange person behind the music.”

Incubus has also given props to Mr. Bungle. The fact is, The Real Thing did have a profound influence on what would come after it, with its funky but heavy bass and metal undertones. But the joke’s on them. Patton actually didn’t have much to do with that record, as most of the songs were written before he showed up. It’s the subsequent Faith No More records that more clearly show his influence. Just don’t tell that to Fred Durst.

As usual, Buzz has the last word on this, or so he thinks. “Mike’s got a lot of rock-star karma to live down,” he says. “No matter how many transvestites he kicks the shit out of in Tijuana, it’s gonna take a lot more than that for all this stuff to get off his conscience.”

A lot more shouldn’t be a problem for Mike Patton, who only seems to gain momentum with every passing year. As the man says, he’s a lifer.


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East Bay Express E-edition East Bay Express E-edition